To non-Tamils, the scenario in Tamil politics looks bizarre. Where else do you see film stars rushing to take charge of the governance of a state that is chaotic? Each aspiring for the chief minister’s chair, without ever having stood for an election before? Each declaring to usher in a promised land free of corruption and deceit? Each beckoning his fan clubs to muster support to his new party? The voters have a wide choice now. There is a long list — Vishal, Rajinikanth, Kamal Haasan, maybe Vijay too. Voila!
The Tamils are not aghast. There has been a symbiotic relationship between cinema and politics in Tamil Nadu for long. The world of entertainment in Tamil Nadu was already politicised since the early 1930s after the Indian National Congress’s civil disobedience movement. The charged atmosphere inspired theatre artistes. When cinema arrived, most switched over to the big screen. The very first full-length Tamil talkie, Kalidass, invoked the name Mahatma Gandhi and the soul-stirring nationalist slogan Vande Mataram in its songs.
But the impact of nationalist films on the masses was limited because, during the pre-Independence period, cinema halls were confined to towns. Once the country attained Independence, and the Congress came to power in Tamil Nadu as well, puritans like Rajaji and Kamaraj who were at the helm of affairs completely disowned the contribution of cinema to the movement.
With the rapid electrification of rural areas and thanks to touring talkies, cinema halls and films became accessible to rural people.
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The Dravida Kazhagam activists, many of whom were playwrights, recognised cinema’s potential and used it deftly. They could project their reformist ideas, insert dialogues critiquing Brahmins, untouchability and other controversial subjects. The brilliant ingenuity of the Dravidian movement’s activists was responsible for the visual medium catching the imagination of the Tamil people like nowhere else in the country.
Cinema brought glamour to the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, and its star campaigner M G Ramachandran (MGR) became an icon. People began to identify him with the party, and all the propaganda material through his songs and script was considered his own. He projected himself as a do-gooder, a chivalrous hero, protector of women in distress. People believed him to be real, watching the reel. When he split from the DMK and formed his own party, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), and stood for elections, he was well-rewarded. He was voted to power thrice, and as long as he was alive, he remained invincible.
J Jayalalithaa, an actor who paired with MGR in a number of films, was looked upon as his political heir, and the voters of MGR became her voters.
It is this tale of the legends, including Karunanidhi, from the world of cinema that lures and tempts the super stars of today to enter electoral politics. It makes them believe that their huge fan following and their iconic image will carry them to the covetous chair. They seem to forget that the legends came with a brand of ideology and well-organised party cadres, and had learnt the mechanism of electoral politics.
The newcomers’ slogan that they would bring change is highly unlikely to happen. People may have cheered them on screen, but it is doubtful they will do so in real life. Besides, how many of them will be in the fray? Have they forgotten the adage too many cooks spoil the broth?